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Force Deployments

Volume 405: debated on Monday 12 May 2003

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How long the current level of ground forces will be deployed in Iraq. [112221]

British forces will not be deployed to the region any longer than is necessary, but will remain there while the operational situation requires it. I have already announced a number of withdrawals and replacements of our forces and I shall continue to keep the House informed.

As my right hon. Friend is aware, the reserve armed forces who have been operating in the Gulf have been admirably supported by the national headquarters in my constituency. There are those who intermittently criticise aspects of what is happening in Iraq, but may I express the hope that he will agree that our forces will be in safe hands when they return with the support of the mobilisation centre in Chilwell?

I am delighted to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the contribution of the reserves in Iraq and, indeed, to the work of the reserves training and mobilisation centre in Chilwell in my hon. Friend's constituency. I have had the privilege of visiting the centre on a number of occasions.

Although we will need to send further reservists to Iraq to help our forces to meet their continuing obligations there, we are also seeking to bring home as soon as is practicable those reservists whose tasks have been completed.

My hon. Friend might like to know that Chilwell is playing its part in the reconstruction of Iraq. Secondees from British Government Departments to the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance are receiving their pre-deployment briefing and training at the centre.

Will the Secretary of State turn his attention to the terms and conditions of members of the reserves and, especially, the situation faced by one of my constituents, who is a police inspector and a member of the volunteer reserves? If he is called to serve in Iraq, he will face a pay cut of £20,000 a year, which is a source of grave concern for his family. Will the Secretary of State consider what might be done to revisit the banding of salary levels to take that into account?

The bands are kept under constant review, and I shall certainly examine any specific case that the hon. Gentleman cares to bring to my attention. Arrangements for the payment of reserves are long standing, tried and tested and generally work very satisfactorily.

Bearing it in mind that conflicts such as that in Iraq put pressure on our armed forces and front-line troops, will the Secretary of State reassure us that even if the political situation improves in Northern Ireland, the British Government will look on the home service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment as a rich reservoir of skilled and professional soldiers, at low cost, who should be maintained in their existing numbers and not given up as a political pawn in some settlement?

I agree with my hon. Friend's tribute to the Royal Irish Regiment. I have had the privilege of seeing it in action in Northern Ireland and elsewhere on a number of occasions, and it does a tremendous job.